It May Not Always Be So [5.43]; We Met At The End Of The Party [4.02]; Child, Child [2.19]; Twilight [2.51]; Because [4.39]; Dreams [5.30]; Did You Never Know? [5.41]
Léo Ferré: Avec le temps [4.14]; Barbara: Pierre [4.03]; Joni Mitchell: Marcie [3.57]; Richard Rodgers: Something Good [3.22]; Michel Legrand: Chanson de Maxence from Les Demoiselles de Rochefort [5.14]; Jacques Brel: Chanson des vieux amants [4.11]; Fred E. Ahlert: Sakta vi gå genom stan (Walking My Baby Back Home) [2.39]; Lars Färnlöf: Att Angöra en Brygga [2.42]; Barbara: Dis quand reviendras-tu? [4.12]; Michel Legrand: What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life? [3.12] from The Happy Ending; Bob Telson: Calling You from Bagdad Café [4.08]; John Lennon / Paul McCartney Blackbird: [2.26]; Leonard Bernstein: Some Other Time from On the Town [4.03]
Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo)
Brad Mehldau (piano)
rec. June 2010, Berwald Concert Hall, Stockholm.
NAÏVE V5241 [79.06]
Anne Sofie von Otter is not at her first crossover album. Back in 2001, she recorded a disc with Elvis Costello, and in 2006, did an album of ABBA covers. So this new recording with Brad Mehldau doesn’t come as a big surprise. It marks von Otter’s migration to the Naïve label, however, and it seems that this French label is banking on developing her first and foremost as a non-classical singer. Time will tell.
As for Brad Mehldau, he is one of today’s most inventive jazz pianists, and is not only prolific, but very popular. He released an album in 2006 with Renée Fleming called Love Sublime, which featured songs that he penned. While it doesn’t seem to have been a big success - Mehldau’s attempts at modern lieder on that disc are perplexing at best - he has continued to write songs that go outside the jazz genre.
Hence this set, which features two discs: the first of original songs by Mehldau, and the second which contains 13 popular songs, ranging from a Lennon/McCartney tune (Blackbird), to some Swedish songs, by way of a number of French chansons.
I’ve been a fan of Brad Mehldau’s music for many years, and own all of his albums. I’m very familiar with the style of his music - both the standards he performs, and his original compositions. I never really “got” the Fleming album; I found that the songs were trying too hard to be “art songs”, and I couldn’t get into the overall concept. So I was pleased that the Love Songs are much more accessible; gone is the exaggerated chromaticism that made the earlier songs a bit cringe-worthy. Here is the more romantic Brad Mehldau; the one who touches a nerve with his sweet, melodic music, but avoids the treacle. These seven songs, based on lyrics by e e cummings, Philip Larkin and Sarah Teasdale, show a composer more at home in a familiar genre than on his previous outing. Many of these wouldn’t make it onto mainstream radio stations, but their boldness isn’t excessive, and after a few listens, they become comfortable. Mehldau’s music is creative and is much more than mere accompaniment. He shows off his skills as pianist and arranger, here, often providing lush soundscapes, and, at other times, more staid melodies.
From the first song, von Otter shows that she is comfortable with this type of music. While I find her warbling vibrato just a bit too much in the first song, It May Not Always Be So, I got used to it in the others. It still annoys a bit, though, and I don’t feel that this much vibrato is necessary. But she sails through this music with her usual wonderful voice - I very much like her recordings of Mahler, Grieg and many other composers’ songs - and the two performers do fit together quite well. Because is a more traditional song, almost a ballad, with a slow, minimal piano melody and much more controlled vibrato from von Otter.
Some of the songs can be a bit harsh, but nothing like the songs Mehldau wrote for the Fleming disc. Child, Child, for example, features a fragmented rhythm and some chromaticisms that may shock those who buy this set for the second disc. Twilight comes out with some interesting arpeggios on the piano, behind just-barely-tonal vocals.
So on to disc two; the pop disc. von Otter is a consummate singer, and she moves smoothly into this genre, notably with impeccable French diction. Oddly, this disc is at a noticeably higher volume than the first, and seems to be recorded in a different manner, with the voice much more present than on the first disc. This is not to say that the piano is relegated to the background, but Mehldau is clearly playing second fiddle here. Nevertheless, his accompaniment is excellent.
Von Otter cuts down on her vibrato for these pop songs; it’s a shame that she didn’t do the same for the first disc. Here, it sounds natural and balanced, and in a song like Joni Mitchell’s Marcie, it is nearly perfect. In fact, Marcie may be the best song on the pop disc, even though von Otter’s diction is a bit unnatural. Calling You, from the movie Bagdad Café, is beautiful as well. The performance of Blackbird, however, sounds a trifle twee, and von Otter sounds like she’s too far from the song; her voice just floats over the music instead of taking control of it. It should be noted that Mehldau’s improvisations on Blackbird, with his piano trio, are magnificent; he gets a brief solo here, which shows off his skills on the keyboard. In fact, he puts von Otter to shame, as his solo is so much better than her singing.
All in all, this set addresses three groups of people. Classical music fans who know von Otter’s work, and who may be tempted by this crossover album; jazz fans, familiar with Mehldau’s recordings; and people who are interested in pop standards well-sung by a woman with an excellent voice, accompanied by a wonderful pianist. If you fit into one of these groups you may like one or both of the discs. Personally, I very much like the Mehldau songs, but will probably not listen to the second disc very often. Interestingly, while this set is just over 79 minutes, and could fit on one disc, Naïve put it on two discs, so the music is separated. It is sold for the price of a single disc though.
Whatever your pleasure, there is much to appreciate here: a great mezzo-soprano, an excellent pianist, and some fine music.
A crossover album that features two excellent musicians.